February 23: The Costin Family

To celebrate Black History Month, this entry deviates from the regular format today and highlights a family instead of an individual. The Costins were an African-American family that had connections to the District, to the family of George Washington, and to the Church of the Epiphany. The patriarch, William “Billy” Costin (depicted here), was born around 1780, maybe at George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon. His mother was a slave and Martha Custis Washington’s half sister, having been the child of Martha’s father and an unnamed slave. Costin’s father was perhaps Martha’s son from her first marriage. Costin married Philadelphia “Delphy” Judge, a freed slave of the Custis family. Costin moved to Washington City about 1800 and built a house on A Street South, where the couple raised seven children.

Costin worked as a porter for many years at the Bank of Washington. Around 1818, Costin helped start a school for African-American children, which Louisa, one of his daughters, eventually led. Costin helped found an African-American Methodist Church, co-founded an African-American Masonic Temple and in 1825 helped found the Columbian-Harmony Society, which provided burial benefits and a cemetery for African-Americans. William Costin died in 1842, the year Epiphany was organized. Seven years later, one of his daughters, Harriet Parke Costin, married Richard Henry Fisk at the Church of the Epiphany. The couple is marked as “colored” in the parish register. For many years, Harriet Costin Fisk was in charge of the Senate Ladies Reception Room at the U.S. Capitol.

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